Choosing Drills for Practice

I get a lot of questions every week about how to select drills from the database we post here at HockeyShare.  In order to choose drills which maximize your ice time, there are several things you must take into account:

1) What is your goal of running the drill – meaning, what skill/tactic are you focusing on
2) Age of your players
3) Talent of your team
4) Can you teach the core skills necessary?
5) What type of tempo are you looking to get out of the drill?
6) Review the drill after practice w/ your coaching staff

What is your goal in running the drill:  If you don’t know what skill or tactic you want to work on, how can you begin to select a drill?  Take the time to plan what skills you want to develop in your practice before you do anything else!  If you’re short on ideas, look back to your games and think about what your team struggled with. No matter what level you’re working with, you can’t go wrong with basic skill instruction and practice!  As Brian Burke said at the 2009 USA Hockey Coaches Symposium – “Get a power skating instructor, the Leafs have one!”  If NHL players still focus on skating techniques, there’s no reason not to focus on them at the youth level.

Age of your players: Are your players physically and mentally capable of performing the drill?  Children develop at different ages – if you’re trying to run a drill the players cannot physically do, both players and coaches will become quickly frustrated.  For example, to properly perform a quick start, a player must have adequate leg strength to allow for explosive steps on the toe of the skate blade.  Many players don’t adequately develop this strength until they are approximately Peewee age.  This isn’t to say proper technique shouldn’t be introduced so they understand the mechanics, but it needs to be understood that Mites most likely will not be able to fully execute a proper quick start.

Talent of your team: While some of the drills posted here are very simple and short, many require a specific advanced movement in order to get the most out of the drill.  Coaches need to have a realistic view of how much talent they are dealing with.  The drill will not go well if you’re asking players to do something in which they lack the fundamental skills to execute.  Analyze the drill and figure out the prerequisite skills needed before you throw any drill into your practice plan.  An example of a simple drill to run, but difficult drill to execute correctly is the Quick Crossover & Shoot drill.  This drill is dead-simple to run, but requires players to be able to: cross over, receive passes in-stride, shoot in-stride, and keep their head up.  If your team struggles in one of those categories, it may be best to find a drill that first focuses on those skills.

Can you teach the core skills:  When you introduce new drills into a practice, it is often times to address specific skill deficiencies.  If you as a coach are uncomfortable teaching the fundamentals behind the skill, you need to find someone who can teach it before you try to run the drill.  This may sound obvious, but I’m always amazed at the number of coaches who run simple skating drills, but cannot properly explain the techniques behind them.  Take, for example, a tight-turn drill.  If your team is struggling with them, you’ve got to be able to articulate the technique so players can make the proper adjustments.  Coaches need to understand some of the following if they’d like to make a positive change in the player’s technique: weight distribution, edge use, proper foot placement, shoulder position, head/vision, torso rotation, and accelerating out of the turn.

What type of tempo are you looking for:  If you’re looking to keep the tempo high in practice, you will want to lean toward drills that are shorter and explosive so you focus on executing them at top speed.  If you’re looking to create more of a “flow” practice with rushes and long ice passes, look for drills that stretch the ice out and finish with a rush against defenders.

Review the drill:  Now that you’ve run your new drills, go back and discuss what worked and didn’t work with your coaching staff.  I’m not ashamed to admit there are drills I’ve tried once, didn’t like, and never ran again.  Sometimes there will be trial and error involved when implementing new drills.  Before you scrap a new drill though, talk it through to see if a simple modification could make the drill “work” for your group.  Don’t just take the drills straight from the website (or a book) and expect them to work 100% every time – adjust them to fit your level.

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